Archive for the ‘Chickens’ Category

Barnyard Bandits


It’s been a hot and dry summer up here, and I think that’s why the predators have started to become more of a problem in our area.  Our vernal pools are low or empty, meaning that the peepers (what our forester calls “Nature’s little protein pills”) and other small prey animals are scarce.

Though we’ve seen a fox around the neighborhood, it hasn’t been a problem.  Our chief invaders right now are raccoons.  A week ago, one of our neighbors lost all but three of their layers when a raccoon broke into their coop.  They’ve since caught the bandit, but that doesn’t bring back their flock.  The next night, I shot another raccoon in our barn that was breaking into one of the feed bins.  Since then, I’ve killed three more.  Today, we found out that another neighbor lost a good portion of her flock to raccoons.

Then this morning, we discovered that one of our Barred Rocks, who chose the corner of an unused goat stall to set her nest, had five of her nine eggs stolen from right underneath her when a predator dug under the walls and grabbed them.  Fortunately, she was unhurt.

So, instead of getting some more wood put up, I had to do some modifications to the building to prevent further loss of either the chicken or her eggs. Here was my solution: hardware cloth attached to the base of the building and spread about 1′ outward.

In the pic above, you can see that this is the corner they dug under.  Hopefully this will help.

After securing all four sides, I buried the cloth in dirt (actually composted manure, because that’s one thing we have a ton of).

Finished project below… topped off with a live catch trap to hopefully snag the next bandit.

Hopefully, this keeps our future momma hen safe!

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Chuck the Chicken Duck, Part II


A while back, one of the kids wrote a blog post about “Chuck the Chicken Duck,” one of our Araucanas who felt more comfortable with the ducks than her own flock.

Today as we were cleaning the barn stall the ducks stay in at night, we found Chuck inside.  Normally, she lays her daily egg in one of the nesting boxes.  However, Midnight started setting yesterday (Katy has already been setting in the other box since the beginning of the month), so now both boxes are occupied.

We tried to shoo Chuck out the door to keep her from disturbing them.  Every time we did, she ran back in, or flew over the door or stall wall.  She was very determined, and agitated that she didn’t have a place to lay her egg.  We finally gave up, figuring that the ducks would scare her away and Chuck would find somewhere else.  The ducks are quite grumpy when setting, and aggressive at driving intruders away.

Sure enough, as Chuck hopped up on the nesting boxes, Midnight chased her away.  But Katy evidently is more patient, and we returned from a wheelbarrow dumping to find this:

Katy is quite the patient one.  We’ll wait till she makes her daily jaunt off the nest to eat and drink to get Chuck’s egg…

NPIP – Exam Time for the Flock


Yesterday, at our request, a representative from the Department of Agriculture came out to visit and test our chickens in conjunction with the National Poultry Improvement Program.  NPIP is a voluntary program that provides testing for common ailments in home and commercial flocks.  NPIP helps us to ensure a safe food supply and avoid the transfer of disease through other means (after all, taking care of chickens is not a hands-off activity here at the Flying T).  In addition, it allows those who raise chickens to avoid unnecessary medicines and antibiotics.  Finally, by working exclusively with NPIP-certified hatcheries and home producers, we can reduce the chances that our healthy flock is infected by birds or chicks we purchase as replacement stock.

Some of the NPIP tests are required for 4H and other shows.

The actual process is quite simple for a relatively small flock like ours (23 birds)… or at least it should be.  First,  you need to make sure they’re contained.  To accomplish this, we simply turned off the coop’s automatic door after the chickens had gone to roost for the night.  Simple, right?

However, about an hour before the NPIP representative arrived, our son went to change the chickens’ water, and six of them slipped out the door.  The three kids and I had a heck of a time chasing them down.  Free range means no fences, and lots of places for them to hide, squeeze under, and run through.  It also means that trying to entice them back into the coop with grain doesn’t work well, because there are lots of other, more tasty things to sample out in the woods.  However, after a bit of running, diving, and even climbing the compost pile, we managed to get our escapees back into the coop.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated the exercise, and so I have no pictures to share.  They would’ve been worth sharing!

OK, it is a simple process, once you’ve got the chickens back in the coop!

We enlisted the kids to help, and they crammed into the grain room along with the NPIP tester, Tara.  One kid would go into the coop and pick up a chicken, then bring it out to Tara, who would start by banding their legs with a numbered tag (for our older chickens, this also required removing their previous NPIP tags).

Then, she turned them onto their backs, and plucked the feathers from a small area under the wing.

A quick scratch with a scalpel to draw blood, a few drops in a plastic vial, and the chickens were released to go .

Within about an hour and a half, the vials were filled and the process was complete.  Tara said that she recently did a flock of 250 birds, and that took all day (with several helpers).


The chickens were none the worse for wear (though they were a bit indignant).

We should get our NPIP renewal certificate in the mail in a few weeks!

Spring is in the Air


Spring is in the air here at the Flying T.

Our resident Boer Goats, Jessie and Gracie, are off at another farm for a month or so in the hopes that they make very close friends with the buck there.  That would bring us kids in September.  In their place, we welcomed two more 4-month-old full-blood Boer does, Ruby and Samy (Samantha).

The Muscovy ducks started laying a few weeks ago, but weren’t sitting, so we ended up collecting a lot of them.  They’re not bad eating and very good for cooking.  On Monday, however, Midnight got the urge and has been faithfully attending a nesting box full  of eggs ever since.  If all goes well, we should be seeing our first batch of ducklings mid-May.

One thing that hasn’t been here at the farm is much in the way of rain.  That, and a dearth of snow this year, means the ground is a lot dryer than normal.  We’ve done some improvement to the soil – lime in the fall and manure in the spring.  But the grass isn’t growing very quickly yet up here or anywhere in our neighborhood up here on the hill.

I overseeded the pasture with with a mix of Orchardgrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, hybrid Fescue, and White Clover right before what was supposed to be a pretty good rain, but it never happened.  Instead, the chickens have had a bit of a feast – an expensive one.  Hopefully we get some rain tonight.

The Winter Rye we planted as a cover crop in the vegetable garden, on the other hand, is quite healthy and ready to be tilled under so we can plant our lettuce, broccoli, and the like.

The drought hasn’t seemed to bug the apples or the peaches, though.  And so far it looks like they survived both our 1st attempt at pruning and some voracious Ruffed Grouse.

The berry bushes are starting to sprout as well, and if we can keep the chickens and goats out of them, hopefully we’ll have another plentiful harvest like last year.

And back in the house, our seed starter setup is working just peachy, with the tomato plants just about ready to transplant into 4″ pots.  They’ve actually done so well that we’ll probably end up selling some of them because we can’t use half of them.

So, all is well here on the farm, but we sure are praying for rain!

The Egg Business – Progress Report


Our 7-year-old son runs the egg business on our farm.  We paid the startup costs – buying the chicks, converting an emu hut to a coop, and buying feed and supplies.  Once the first group started laying, he took over the rest.  He now buys the food, cares for the chickens and eggs, markets the eggs, and keeps records of his production, income, and expenses.

Small-scale farming is not a big money maker, and as we’ve put together our 5-year plan, we can see that we’ll have to get a bit bigger before we can realize any significant profits.  However, based on just the past few months, eggs are a good place to start.

With proper care, we’re finding that our original flock of Rhode Island Reds and Araucanas (10 pullets, one cockerel total) produces an average of about 8 eggs a day.  That’s about 20 dozen per month.  The young flock consists of 12 Barred Rock pullets and their cockerel, and up till now, they’ve been eating and not producing.  Supplemental feed for the combined flock runs him about $25/mo…  less in the growing season and  more in the Winter due to availability of forage.  So the rough cost of production is about $1.25 per dozen.

You just can't get fresher eggs than these!

Out of that 20 dozen, our family uses about 8 a month and gives away another 2.  We pay him at production cost for those.  The remaining 10 dozen have sold pretty easily at $3/dozen, so combined with the ~$12 we pay him for the eggs we use, he’s been clearing a bit under $20 a month.  Of this, he puts a good portion in his “giving” jar (currently he’s giving that to missions in Haiti, but he’s looking at other places for the future), and splits the rest between his “saving” and “spending” jars.

Well, this week, the Barred Rocks started dropping an egg or two, which means pretty soon our production will double.  His first thought was, “that’s OK, it won’t be too hard to sell twice as many eggs.”  However, we had to explain to him that although his production is doubling, the number of eggs he’ll have to sell will actually triple (because we don’t plan on upping our family consumption to 20 dozen a month!).

So, it’s on to more marketing.  He’s already made a deal with the local feed store to buy his eggs, but they only pay $1.50.  That’s enough to make a small profit, especially since his cost per dozen should drop significantly now that he doesn’t have so many unproductive mouths to feed, but it’s not nearly as nice as $3.

This whole process has become a supplement to our homeschool curriculum, as he’s not just learning animal science, but  math, accounting, business skills, marketing, and communications also.  And of course, he’s learning a lot about both personal and social responsibility, lessons that will be even more important throughout his life than the “three R’s.”  Regardless of what some might say, that kind of agricultural education certainly doesn’t seem useless to us!

If he can manage to sell 30 dozen a month at the going rate, that’s about $75 a month profit.  That might bump up a little if he’s successful in raising chicks this Spring.  That’s too bad for a backyard business, especially if you’re a Cub Scout.

Do you raise chickens or other livestock on a small scale, and if so, do you do it for profit, as a hobby, or both?  How do you market your products?  I’d also love to hear other ideas for getting kids involved in business and financial planning at an early age.  Thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting!

Night Pics


My daughter and I snuck in after bedtime to take some pics of the barn at night.

Hey, we're trying to sleep in here!

Ducks roosting up for the night

Zip savoring his hay

...while Jasper is already done with his food.

While we were out, the ducks decided to take a midnight stroll

The goats were decidedly unhelpful with posing

Heading back in for the night

What’s your favorite thing about being outdoors at night?  Any great memories?

Farmcycling Project – Chicken Water Heater



Though the winter is setting in reluctantly, we have had a few cold nights where the chicken’s water iced up.  A quick check at the feed store, Tractor Supply, and Amazon found chicken waterers like this:

Unfortunately, the cost of one of these babies is between $40 and $50.  That’s a lot of chicken feed!  So, to the farm cycling pile I went for inspiration.

Materials I discovered were already on hand: Old cookie tin, incandescent lightbulb, silicone sealer, electrical tape.  I purchased another $4.50-worth: Rubberized light socket ($2.49) and two-pronged plug ($1.99).

Tools required: Tin snips, screw driver, wire strippers, and caulk gun.

How-to is simple: cut a hole in the side of the tin, poke the socket through, caulk it with silicone, and install the plug on the wire ends.  I unintentionally left a bit of room around the hole where light escapes and shines through the silicone, making it easy to tell if it’s on or not.

Even though the store-bought heaters I found were 100 to 125w, I used a 60w bulb because I had one on hand.  It worked like a champ down to 20 degrees last week, but I think a 40w or even 25w would be sufficient.

End result: Same effect at 10% of the price!

EDIT: My wife made an excellent suggestion this morning.  Cookie tins aren’t as common as they once were, but you can find them inexpensively at craft stores (Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, etc).  She noted that they were 60% off this week at Jo-Ann’s Fabric, and since they were in holiday themes you could easily use them to add some decorative cheer to the coop!